Though he wouldn’t call it a comeback, he would call it a return. Swedish filmmaker Lukas Moodysson definitely sees his new movie “We Are the Best!” as bringing him back to the affectionate, warm-hearted but clear-eyed portraits of youth on which he first made his reputation.
His first two features put him on the map in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as the disarming “Show Me Love” and “Together” stood apart from the austerity and emotional severity often associated with Scandinavian filmmaking. The wrenching, emotionally devastating 2002 film “Lilya 4-Ever” seemed to have affected even Moodysson himself, as it was followed by a few years of oddball projects, including 2004’s grungy “A Hole in My Heart.”
In the time since 2009’s internationalist detour “Mammoth,” which starred Michelle Williams and Gael García Bernal, Moodysson has written two novels. Neither has been published in an English translation, but one dealt quite starkly with the death of Moodysson’s father.
Having premiered to positive reviews at the recent Venice Film Festival – Variety called it “eccentric, authentic and utterly delightful” – “We Are the Best!” pulled into Toronto on Monday night. On Tuesday, Moodysson was on the phone doing press before heading back to Sweden.
Moodysson's new film is an adaptation of a graphic novel by his wife, Coco, a fictionalized take on her own teenage years as a punk rocker. Set in early-1980s Stockholm, the story follows young outcasts Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin) as they try to get their own band going, enlisting likewise loner Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne) to join them. What they lack in skill the trio make up for in enthusiasm, determination and a refusal to be told what they can and cannot do.
The story’s positive spirit and sense of rowdy uplift was just the thing Moodysson, now 44, needed to get himself back to making films. He said he was standing in the kitchen of his family’s summer house when he turned to his wife and told her he wanted to film an adaptation of her book. Simple as that.
“I wanted to do something much more euphoric and happy and optimistic,” he said. “That was the moment I felt I knew I needed to do something happy because the world is full of terrible things happening and I needed to do something else.
“It’s a movie that says that life is difficult sometimes and you’re lonely sometimes,” he added, “but still there are things in life that are fantastic and you can turn things around on your own to make it good. It is possible to find strength, even when people don’t like you. And that’s important to say, both to young people and to adults.”
In a key moment in the film, the three girls listen to a song by the popular Swedish band Ebba Grön while dancing and singing in an apartment, lost in themselves while also deeply connected to one another. The moment sweetly captures a certain feeling of youth and possibility.
“When we filmed that, it was a moment I just had tears in my eyes because it felt so close to reality,” said Moodysson.
In another scene, one of the girls tries to impress a boy by talking about a song by the band KSMB, which Moodysson said was his own favorite song when he was young. In the press notes for the film, Moodysson adds that more recently the music of Rihanna saved his life.
Though acknowledging that might be a slight exaggeration, he noted, “For me still, music plays a really big part and I still sometimes really need music to keep on going. I need that energy in my head to move on.”
Both Moodysson and his wife have active Tumblrs online, in which they frequently post photos of Robert Smith of the Cure, actress Kristen Stewart, Rihanna and figure skaters. Moodysson posted a number of behind-the-scenes photos of his young cast in Venice, including when they presented a “We Are the Best!” pressbook to Daniel Radcliffe, as well as of his solo trip to Toronto.
For now, Moodysson is unsure what he will do next, but he is feeling revitalized. The same sort of enthusiasm and directness he once found in punk and which comes through in “We Are the Best!” is something he connects now to the immediacy of certain corners of online culture.
“I’m not really a big fan of the Internet in general, but Tumblr I really like because it’s so much about being a fan of things,” he said. “I think it’s important in life not to be too grownup, to continue to be a fan of things and just really like things the way you did when you were 13 years old. And that’s sometimes forgotten when you grow up.”
Follow Mark Olsen on Twitter: @IndieFocusCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun